Enhanced Elantra: why Hyundai would do well to loosen up about safety features for 2019

2019 Hyundai Elantra

2019 Hyundai Elantra

What changes will make the 2019 Hyundai Elantra different?

Likely very little, considering Hyundai’s spent the last two years updating its stylish and value-packed compact car. The all-new sixth-generation Elantra debuted for model-year 2017 year as a four-door sedan with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Following quickly were a pair of turbocharged sedans, one designed for fuel economy, the other for performance. For 2018, the sedans added standard equipment and were joined by the Elantra GT, a four-door hatchback with a version engineered to challenge the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Si.

Slotting into the lineup above the subcompact Accent and below the midsize Sonata, Elantra is the South Korean automaker’s second-longest-running nameplate in North America. It premiered in 1992, and has been a steady seller since, despite a sales dip of 4.9 percent for 2017. That’s really not bad, since just three of the roughly 16 cars in the compact class registered sales gains for the year. Indeed, demand for cars of all types continued to dip as Americans flocked to buy crossover SUVs.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

The most compelling reason would be to learn if Hyundai makes key driver-assistance features available on more than just the most expensive trim levels. Items such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-maintaining automatic steering are available exclusively on the flagship Elantra Limited sedan and GT Sport and only within option packages that cost a hefty $4,350 and $3,850, respectively. Most rivals offer a similar suite of safety features across a wider spectrum of trim levels, either at reasonable cost or as standard equipment. For example, these key driver aids are standard on all versions of the Toyota Corolla sedan and a reasonable $1,000 option on nearly every Honda Civic.

Waiting for the 2019 Elantra will almost certainly mean paying increased prices for a car that isn’t significantly different from its 2018 counterpart. Details of the ’19 Elantra’s styling and aspects of its feature set will also have a short shelf life; Hyundai is expected to give the car a midcycle freshening for model-year 2020. Note as well that the Forte from Hyundai’s sibling brand, Kia, shares Elantra’s basic engineering and some powertrains. The Forte will be fully redesigned for model-year 2019, so if you like this South Korean parent company’s compact-car formula, you may want to consider waiting for the all-new Forte.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

There’s plenty to recommend an Elantra as an affordable compact with styling and interior materials that would be at home in a pricier car. Hyundai sweetens the pot with some significant purchase incentives, including large cash rebates, cut-rate financing, or cheap lease deals. Toss in generous warranty coverage, and this is a compelling value for the money.

So buying a 2018 is a fair proposition, provided you’re OK foregoing the aforementioned safety features – or shelling out several thousand bucks to get them on an optioned-up Limited or GT. Elantra can’t match the Civic for overall road manners or VW’s Golf for refinement. But it’s otherwise highly competitive for a quiet, well-designed cabin, well-sorted drivetrains, and solid body structure. Expect the 2018 model lineup to carry over for 2019, with sedans in SE, SEL, Value Edition, Eco, Sport, and Limited trim levels. The hatchback should return in GT and GT Sport grades.

Will the styling be different?

Maybe a new color choice or two, but nothing of consequence until the model-year 2020 freshening. Until then, the Elantra sedan will remain a gracefully aerodynamic-looking four-door and the GT a far more conservatively shaped hatchback. From 1992-2010, Elantra was far from a design standout. That changed with the radical fifth-generation version that debuted for model-year 2011, alongside the similarly striking Sonata. Its sweeping lines attracted buyers and sent rival compact-car designers back to their drawing boards. Dubbed “Fluidic Sculpture,” the styling wasn’t a hit with everyone, however.

Bigwigs at Hyundai’s headquarters in South Korea felt Elantra and Sonata were too ostentatious. They ordered stylists to tone things down. The results were a sobered-up Sonata in 2015 and the redesigned ‘17 Elantra, whose less flamboyant look carries over today. Happily, there was no retreat on interior design. Carrying over for 2019 will be instruments and controls that are contemporary, logically arranged, and easy to use. Expect all sedans but the base SE come standard with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. The GT’s control scheme will remain unique. Its central touchscreen sits atop the center of the dashboard, where it works well but it seems more of an afterthought than the sedan’s integrated solution.

Passenger comfort on all models will again be very good for the class. Front and rear occupants have generous legroom. Headroom suffers a bit below the housing of the available sunroof (which is panoramic on the GT), but only the very tall might gripe.

Any mechanical changes?

Don’t anticipate any. The SE, SEL, Value Edition, and Limited sedans will return with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Both figures are below average for the competitive set but aren’t deal-breakers; acceleration is fine in everyday driving. The SE should again with a six-speed manual transmission or, for another $1,000 or so, with the six-speed automatic standard on the SEL, Value Edition, and Limited.

The 2019 Elantra Eco sedan will reprise a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 128 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. It teams with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Despite less displacement than the 2.0-liter engine, the turbo four produces more torque and at lower rpm and the Eco feels noticeably snappier off the line than the SE, SEL, Value Edition, and Limited. We experienced no low-speed bogging and shuttering from the dual-clutch transmission during our test drive of this model.

The 2019 GT hatchback will also return with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four, but with 161 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. It’s a noticeably step up from the 2.0-liter in the sedans and feels quite lively with the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission and only marginally less so with the optional six-speed automatic.

Elantra’s best performers will again be the Sport-model sedan and the GT Sport hatchback. They’ll return for 2019 with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with the sporty six-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. Although it can’t match the 250-plus-horsepower punch from the turbo fours in the Ford Focus ST and RS, the Civic Type R, and Subaru Impreza WRX and STI, this engine closely matches the output of turbo fours in rivals like the Civic Si and VW GTI and Jetta GLI. Expect the ’19 Elantra Sport and GT Sport to again be responsive and plenty quick enough to be entertaining in any driving situation.

They’ll also retain an edge over the other Elantras for ride composure and road manners, not only because they use larger wheels and tires and sharper steering calibration. They’re the only Elantras with an independent rear suspension, a more sophisticated – and more expensive – upgrade over the torsion-beam rear axle in the other models. The result is better cornering and more consistent tracking, especially through bumpy turns. We still rank the Civic Si and VW GTI ahead for overall steering feel and handling prowess, but props to Hyundai for offering credible alternatives that beat the Honda and Volkswagen on an amenities-per-dollar basis.

The other ’19 Elantras will retain handling characteristics that are competent, but not pulse-racing. Steering feel is fine, there’s surprisingly little body lean in fast turns, and ride is a decent balance of control and comfort. Noise suppression should remain a 2019 Elantra strong point. The sedan’s 2.0- and 1.4-liter engines sound very refined when accelerating and fade to near silence at cruise. The turbo 1.6 has a sportier exhaust note that makes itself heard during acceleration and the hatchback body style suffers more road noise than the sedan, but no Elantra is intrusively loud.

Will fuel economy improve?

Not likely, given carryover powertrains. Elantra is a little heavier than most comparably equipped rivals, which kept 2018 EPA fuel-economy ratings average to slightly below in the competitive set. Expected to repeat for 2019 are 2018 EPA ratings that put the SE sedan at 26/36/29 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 29/38/33 with automatic. Similarly, the 2019 SEL, Value Edition, and Limited (which are automatic only) should again rate 28/37/32 mpg.

Figure 2019 Eco sedan ratings of 32/40/35 mpg city/highway/combined and for the Sport-model sedan to again rate 22/30/25 with manual transmission and 26/33/29 with dual-clutch automatic. In the hatchback line, expect the ’19 2.0-liter GT to again rate 22/31/26 mpg with manual transmission and 24/32/27 with the automatic and the turbo GT Sport to repeat at 22/29/25 with manual and 26/32/28 with the dual-clutch automatic. Anticipate that Hyundai will continue to tune all 2019 Elantras, even the turbos, for 87-octane gas.

Will it have new features?

Nothing of note, unless Hyundai sees fit to equip more trim levels with the key driver-assistance features we outlined above: lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning, and automatic emergency braking.

SE grades will remain basic economy cars, though they’ll return with standard power windows and locks, remote entry, and split-folding rear seatbacks. These are aimed at committed penny-pinchers. Count on most shoppers starting their 2019 Elantra search with the SEL. This trim should again add some worthwhile equipment, including rear disc brakes (replacing the SE’s drums), blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic detection, heated exterior mirrors, automatic trunk release, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton engine start, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment with CarPlay and Android Auto, 16-inch (up from the SE’s 15s) aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, and cupholders for rear-seat occupants.

Expect the 2019 Value Edition sedan to again build on the SEL with LED daytime running lights, a power sunroof, heated front seats, and auto-dimming rearview mirror with wireless garage door transmitter. The Value Edition’s sunroof was optional on the Limited for 2018, but Hyundai might make it standard for 2019, along with the Limited’s returning leather upholstery, 17-inch wheels, chrome exterior trim, and the automakers’s Blue Link telematics.

Standard equipment for the 2019 Eco sedan and GT hatchback would again line up approximately with the SEL. Sport-model sedans should again mirror the Value Edition, while the GT Sport would be most like the Limited-trim sedan.

How will 2019 prices be different?

They’ll certainly rise. By just how much depends on what equipment Hyundai adds. Estimated base prices in this report include Hyundai’s destination fee, which was $885 on the ’18 Elantra.

Assuming features carry over, count on a starting price for the manual-transmission SE of about $18,000. Add about $1,000 for the automatic transmission. SEL grades would start at about $20,000 for ‘19, the Value Edition at $21,000, the Eco at $21,500, and the Limited at $23,500. Estimated base price for the 2019 Elantra Sport is $23,500 with manual transmission, $24,600 with the dual-clutch automatic. For the hatchbacks, estimated base price is $20,500 ($21,500 with automatic transmission) for the GT and $24,500 for the GT Sport ($25,600 with the dual-clutch automatic).

Factory options would remain limited to packages for certain models. The Limited Ultimate Package ($4,350 in 2018) would include driver-assistance features, imbedded GPS navigation with 8-inch display, upgraded audio system, sunroof, heated rear seats, and memory driver’s seat.

The Sport sedan’s Premium Package ($2,250 in 2018) adds the Limited’s navigation system, upgraded audio, and Blue Link, along with dual-zone automatic climate control.

The base GT with automatic transmission should continue with the Style Package ($1,800), which adds blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic detection, pushbutton engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and a sliding center console arm rest. Ordering this should again open access to the Tech Package ($4,300), which included LED headlights, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, power panoramic sunroof, navigation, Blue Link, and wireless smartphone charging. GT Sports with the automatic have a similar Tech Package that cost $3,850 on 2018 models.

Our pick for best value would be the Eco sedan, as it will be the most fuel-efficient Elantra, have lots of convenience features, and should carry a sticker price well below $25,000.

When will it come out?

Expected release date for the 2019 Hyundai Elantra and Elantra GT models is in the third quarter 2018.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla and Corolla iM, Volkswagen Golf and Jetta

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]